Caste War, Independent Maya State: 1850 - 1901
"This war will not be lost here on this land, because this land will be reborn." The Books of Chilam Balam (The sacred Books of the Yucatec Maya)
The Yucatec Maya (Masewal) group known as the Cruzo'ob Maya during the Maya Social War (Caste War) founded the Maya state of Chan Santa Cruz with it's capital Noh Kah Balam Nah Chan Santa Cruz, was founded in about 1850 near a sacred cenote, a natural well providing a year-round source of holy water.
The city was laid out in the pre-Columbian Maya manner, surrounding a square with the Balam Nah, the 'Jaguar House', and the school at the east, the Pontiff's house at the west, the General's houses at the north, and the storehouses and market to the south.
The regional capitals in Bak Halal, Chun Pom, (Vigia Chico) and Tulum, were probably laid out on the same plan as the capital.
At its greatest extent, from the 1860s through the 1890s, the Chan Santa Cruz state encompassed all of the southern and central parts of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. With associated, buffer and splinter groups, this state was the core of a broader indigenist independence movement that controlled virtually all of the old Iz'a territories.
These territories include the eastern, central and southern portions of the Yucatán peninsula, extending from Cape Catoche south to include what is now northwestern Belize and northeastern Guatemala. The United Kingdom recognized the Maya Free state as a de facto independent nation during 1850's through 1893. During this period the British maintain good relations with the Cruzo'ob Maya especially with extensive trading of selling weapons. The Maya were so powerful that the British started to get afraid. The Cruzo'ob Maya military was substanially larger than the garrison and militia in the British colony. In 1983 the British Goverment assigned Sir Spenser St. Johns to disentangle Her Royal Majesty's Goverment from the Maya Free State. They also sign the Spenser Mariscal Treaty ,which ceded all of the Maya Free state's land to Mexico.
The British and the Mexicans agreed on a border without asking the Indigenous Maya in 1893 and Finalized in 1897. The British cut ties with the Maya and stop selling them weapons. In 1901 the Mexican federal army took the Chan Santa Cruz Capital. The Maya resisted until the 1940's. In some way the Cruzo'ob Maya where betrayed by the British. Even so the Maya where requesting for rifles to drive out the Mexicans in 1959. A British flag was still flying in Xcacal Guardia in the 1970's hoping the British would help them. The remote Cruzo'ob Maya villages still taught the war was going on ignoring the treaty done by the Mexicans and British.
Today the descendents of the Cruzo'ob Maya also known as "Maya Masewal" can still be found in Quintana Roo Mexico and Belize.
Women During the Caste War
Maya women were among the Caste War's greatest victims. With many menfolk displaced, dead or snatched away by combatants, this left women and children completely vulnerable to the violence and horror of war. Many of this brave women took the role of leaders like María Petrona Uicab was from the middle of 1860 commander and priestess of the rebellious Maya soldiers of the peninsular east. Daughter of a cruzo'ob commander with the surname Uicab, María was one of the main figures of the rebellious Maya Máasewal in the war they waged against the troops of the state of Yucatan and the Mexican federal government. The military commanders of the villages of Chumpón, San Antonio Muyil and Noj Kaaj Santa Cruz obeyed the orders of the priestess, who resided in San Antonio Muyil and was the interpreter of the signs of the Maya crosses that had their sanctuary in the Holy Pueblo Santa Cruz Tulum, ancient Tsama.' A Woman of great charisma, she had a remarkable ability to be obeyed by her followers.
An anonymous author, referred in this way in 1868 to the authority that had reached between the rebels:
"From this period dates the establishment in Tulum of a woman named María Uicab, who apparently recognizes all the attributes of sovereignty with a sacred character".
Such authority did not go unnoticed by the Yucatec state government and at the beginning of 1871, Colonel Daniel Traconis assaulted the town of Tulum by setting fire to the sanctuary and taking the son and secretary of the Patron Uicab prisoner. The blow was not devastating and in that same summer, following the orders of María Uicab, Bernardino Cen de Noj Kaaj Santa Cruz Kampocolché burned Chemax, while Juan de la Cruz Pomol de Muyil did the same in July of the following year.
After 1875 there is no document that makes reference to María Uicab. Some of Tulum's grandparents say that she died executed by the same chief of Noj Kaaj Santa Cruz during one more of the factional struggles between the rebel leaders after giving her support to Bernardino Cen. Others say that the Patrona died as an old woman and was buried in the same town of Santa Cruz Tulum. Anyway today is a good day to remember who was María Uicab.
Information taken from: Gerogina Rosado and Landi Santana, "María Uicab, queen, priestess and military leader of the rebellious Mayans (1863-1875)".
By Maaya K'a'ajlay, photo courtesy Belize Yucatec Maya
Photograph courtesy Belize Abroad
One of the reasons for the Caste War in Belize was because the British were expanding their logwood operations in areas where the Maya Máasewal (Yucatec Maya) Villages were located. The British did not want to pay tax for the use of the Maya land to the Maya Máasewal (Maya Yucatec). The Maya had the north-western Belize under their control, so the Maya Máasewal raided the British at Hillbank in 1847 - raided the British by the New River settlements in 1848 - raided the British at young Toledo & Company in 1856 - raided the British at Qualm Hill and Indian Church in 1866. Also in 1866, they fought at the battle of San Pedro Yalbac, took over Corozal Town in 1870, fought the battle of Orange Walk Town in 1872, but the attacks against them continued until 1879. The Maya Máasewal resisted until the 1930’s in the Yalbac area when their villages were burnt down by the BEC (Belize Estate Company). After the war, many Maya Máasewal became cane farmers.
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